Michael Moore burst upon the American moviemaking scene with Roger & Me, a forerunner of the independent film movement that was inducted to the 2013 National Film Registry by the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board. In the documentary, Moore doggedly tries to do what every working stiff dreams of: talk to the man at the top. His efforts to meet General Motors Chairman Roger Smith and persuade him to visit Flint, Michigan, frame a film that uses humor to overwhelming effect. While slyly lampooning corporate America, Roger & Me exposes the devastating first stirrings of the economic tsunami that swallowed Flint, Detroit and all of southeastern Michigan.
Love him or hate him, you have to give Michael Moore credit for shedding some light and sparking some big conversations about the problems with our great country. I belong to the former category here. I am a fan of Michael Moore and his work. I've seen and own his films and books. Heck, I've even seen him in person and have his autograph in a couple of books. If we set aside the politics, Moore has a fascinating and unique way of making documentaries. Instead of giving the usual facts printed out with straight forward interviews with his subjects, he adds a bit of a narrative and a whole lot of fun entertainment in the form of comedy into his documentaries on order to tell his story.
He also adds an element which is very rare in the documentary format, which is that he gives each of us the opportunity to form our own opinion and start our own debate on the topics he covers. But what Mr. Moore is so good at is prompting a long discussion on what should be done about the topics at hand. I'm talking about the big bad corporations that are removing jobs from the USA and sending them overseas, or how the big pharmaceutical companies and big businesses charge an arm and a leg for a small bottle of medication, where as somewhere other than the USA, you can get the same treatment for free. And then of course there are the topics of gun laws, schools, and the class system - all of which Mr. Moore has tackled in some form or another.
His distinctive way of making documentaries has earned him Oscars and many other awards and praise from people around the world. But also, it has earned him some big enemies, as his views to some seem radical. But as time has told, he has always been right. His first foray into the documentary circuit was back in 1989 as he used his own money from his mortgage and a recent severance from a former job to finance a story he wanted to tell called 'Roger & Me'. The Roger in 'Roger & Me' is referring to Roger Smith, who was the CEO of General Motors at the time, who was responsible for shutting down the GM automobile factories in Flint, Michigan (Moore's hometown). This forced over 30,000 people to lose their jobs all at once, which ended up being more than double that number in later years.
The reason for this decision by Roger Smith was that he planned on opening the same number of factories in Mexico, so that he could pay the workers down there a few cents a day, instead of the working wages here in the US. Like Moore says in the documentary, this might be a decent decision if your company is going down the tubes, but in GM's case, their company had the biggest profits they've ever seen. And the main simple narrative here is Moore trying to talk with Roger Smith about his decision and see if he would travel to Flint and see what the effects have been since the factory shutdowns were implemented.
The documentary, which is told out of order, shows us the downfall and total devastation of Flint, Michigan. It's indeed very sad and upsetting that so many people who had good hard working jobs, who were able to provide for their families in a rich and fun city, suddenly lost everything due to one person deciding to make a quick buck. Needless to say, we know how GM turned out in later years. I guess they should have followed that old rule that says a happy employee makes a successful business. In Moore's casual interview style, he literally walks around Flint with his camera person, trying to talk to anyone about their thoughts on the recent shut down. Soon enough, we see most Flint's once beautiful streets of commerce shut down due to poor business, because nobody has jobs anymore.
Meanwhile, crime was at an all time rise in murder, theft, and other felonies. Still, Moore was still trying to talk with Roger Smith where ever he could. He tried at his athletic club, restaurants, and his office, to which all attempts were unsuccessful, because Roger would have security escort Moore and his camera crew out and was unwilling to talk. Moore also took notice that companies and the tourism board tried to revitalize Flint by building a big entertainment shopping center, a new luxurious hotel, and the world's largest indoor theme park. All projects failed quickly and were a waste of time and money that Flint never had.
One of the more infamous characters in this documentary was the sheriff of Flint, who would evict families with small children out on the street for being as little as one month late on a payment. It looked like he took pride in this job. I can't imagine what it would be like to see your hometown go through something as horrible as Flint did. Seeing your city build more jails instead of helping your citizens, or having the small still wealthy portion of your city holding parties and hiring laid off factory workers to act as living statues at their parties. It's deeply saddening to see this, and the unfortunate part is stuff like this is still going on today.
But that is what Michael Moore is trying to do. He was ahead of his time and saw something that was happening, and it wasn't good. So he set out to find out just what was going on and who would answer to all this. Like the famous Bob Dylan song says, "The times, they are a changing", and Mr. Moore caught on early.
Michael Moore said in a newsletter that this new 'Roger & Me' transfer is a 4k restoration from the original 16mm negative, which was found a few years ago. 'Roger & Me' has a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Moore and a few camera people shot this film and the restoration job is quite incredible. Despite the old archival footage of news programs and stock footage, the image looks great. Detail is quit vivid and sharp, while having the filmic quality to it. Facial textures such has facial hair, wrinkles, scars, and dirt come in quite nicely here.
The shots of Flint and Detroit, Michigan look stunning in this new transfer, despite the melancholy look to the place. Colors are very well saturated and well balanced at all times and always seem very real and raw. Skin tones are natural and black levels are deep and inky. For all of the limitations on this small budget documentary, the video quality has stood the test of time and looks great. There are no major complaints with compression issues whatsoever ever and there has not been any digital washing of any kind, leaving this video presentation with top marks.
This release comes with a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio mix. There is no lossless audio on this track from Warner Bros. Since this documentary was made on a cheap budget, the original sourcing is the only thing the sound engineers has to go on. For the most part, this audio track gets the job done nicely. Michael Moore's narration sounds full, robust and nice throughout. However, during some of the "on-the-street" interviews, some of the dialogue sounds a bit canned. You'll still be able to understand the dialogue, it just doesn't have the full sound like Moore's narration.
The documentary is packed full of music and songs, one of them being the iconic Beach Boys song "Wouldn't It Be Nice", which is an unsettling song used in this instance. However, it doesn't have that powerful of a punch with this Dolby Digital track as it would with a lossless 5.1 mix. That being said, there are no pops, cracks, or hissing to speak of here, and for being a small budget documentary, mostly made on the run, the sound is quite good.
Audio Commentary with Director Michael Moore - Here is an all-new recorded commentary by Michael Moore for this 25th anniversary and it's just a delight to hear. Moore discusses basically everything that has happened since this film debuted. He also recalls some of the trouble of shooting this documentary so early in his career. He also lets us in on some of the crazy details about some of his interview subjects. It's a fun and informative commentary that is worth listening to.
Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - Here is the trailer for the film.
'Roger & Me' is one of those documentaries that will live forever. People still talk about it and it remains as relevant today as it was back 25 years ago. Moore unleashed his unique style of filmmaking back then and has since earned many awards for his films. Moore is definitely a pioneer in documentary filmmaking. The restored video presentation here is top notch, while the audio does the job well enough, considering the production. And the new commentary is a wonderful listen, leaving this 25th anniversary edition highly recommended.